One year later, Euro 2020 is finally underway. At the end of every matchday, we’ll be dissecting the biggest talking points from all the action. Below, we look back on a frenetic Day 3.
Questions remain despite England’s win
England produced a solid display to seal its first-ever victory to open a European Championship. In collecting three points on home soil at Wembley Stadium, Gareth Southgate’s men also exacted some revenge against a Croatia team that broke English hearts three years ago at the World Cup in Russia.
The host nation was by far the dominant side throughout, controlling the flow of the contest and applying a massive amount of pressure on Croatia’s backline before Raheem Sterling netted the decisive goal just before the hour mark. While it was a performance that helped strengthen the belief about the team’s chances of winning Euro 2020, the narrow 1-0 scoreline suggests that Southgate still has work to do to find England’s best attacking combination.
Tottenham Hotspur superstar and three-time Premier League Golden Boot winner Harry Kane was likely the first name on Southgate’s team sheet. But the prolific scorer was surprisingly quiet against an aging Croatia side that offered far less defensive resistance than the outfit that finished second at the 2018 World Cup. The subdued performance resulted from Kane playing in a deeper role, which gave Sterling and Phil Foden the freedom to push higher up the pitch.
An unconvincing afternoon at the office certainly won’t cost Kane his spot in the starting lineup. But it could lead to Southgate, who surprisingly left Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho out of the team entirely, to reconsider his approach and possibly move Kane back into the No. 9 role, where he’s excelled throughout his career, for England’s next match against rival Scotland.
By the numbers: Goran Pandev edition
North Macedonian icon Pandev scored in his country’s 3-1 Group C defeat to Austria at the age of 37 years and 321 days. The Genoa forward, making his 120th international appearance, successfully converted North Macedonia’s first shot at a major tournament.
Here are some numbers behind Pandev’s lengthy national team career:
1: Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya, and P!nk topped the U.S. Billboard chart with their version of “Lady Marmalade” when Pandev first played for North Macedonia in 2001.
2: England’s Jude Bellingham, who became the youngest player to feature in a European Championship on Sunday, was born two years after Pandev’s international debut.
300: Pandev is the second oldest scorer in European Championship history after Austria’s Ivica Vastic, who was 300 days older when he scored a late penalty against Poland at Euro 2008.
2001: The year of Pandev’s introduction to international football. A Turkey side featuring Hakan Sukur and Rustu Recber – who were both in their 20s – drew 3-3 with North Macedonia in the World Cup qualifier.
Looking for answers after Eriksen’s collapse
In any other circumstance, Stefan Lainer might’ve gone mad. It was only the Borussia Monchengladbach player’s second international goal and Austria’s third at a European Championship, but concern for a footballer with whom he’d never played with tempered Lainer’s celebration.
He held a shirt up – “Eriksen Stay Strong” – to join the worldwide tributes to Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen.
Expert insight and news will continue to filter out during the tournament that will try to answer how a supremely fit 29-year-old athlete suffered cardiac arrest on the pitch and “was gone” before one shock from a defibrillator, according to Denmark’s team doctor.
Inter Milan’s club doctor said “there had never been any episode that even remotely hinted at a problem” during his spells with Tottenham Hotspur and in Italy.
Until we’re given more clarity on the situation, the football world must be thankful that Eriksen remains in stable condition after the frightening scenes in Copenhagen. But it must also reassess its practices for when something like this happens again.
UEFA faces criticism for giving Denmark and Finland players two options when the game halted: finish the fixture later on Saturday or complete it Sunday. It seems like a heartless way to deal with a deeply emotional situation.
“It’s a ridiculous decision by UEFA,” said Peter Schmeichel, hero of Denmark’s Euro 1992 campaign and father of the country’s current No. 1 ‘keeper Kasper. “They should have tried to work out a different scenario and shown a little bit of compassion, and they didn’t.”
Netherlands as advertised
What a way to make your comeback.
The Netherlands, appearing in a men’s major international tournament for the first time since the 2014 World Cup, came into the competition promising to entertain, one way or another. The squad is littered with talent, especially in attacking areas, but defensive frailty has been a serious issue under Frank de Boer, who himself doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence on the bench.
Hell, even his brother, Ronald, questioned De Boer’s tactics ahead of the tournament. Exciting forwards, a not-so-stingy backline, and a coach who still doesn’t know what his best system is – that’s a recipe for erratic football, and it’s absolutely riveting for the neutral viewer.
The Dutch delivered just that in Sunday’s 3-2 victory against Ukraine.
They were buzzing from the opening kickoff, spurred on by the boisterous, colorful crowd in Amsterdam. Memphis Depay was in the mood, Georginio Wijnaldum was everywhere, Denzel Dumfries was flying up and down the right flank, and Wout Weghorst – a certified member of the Name Hall of Fame – was throwing his big body about. All their good work was seemingly undone in four manic minutes, though, when the Netherlands, true to form, fell asleep defensively and conceded twice, throwing away the 2-0 lead that had been deservingly built.
Dumfries’ late header rescued the day for the Dutch, providing the final twist in a wide-open match that was easily the best of the competition thus far.
‘Dark horses’ stumbling so far
It’s been a rough week for teams that came into the Euros billed as sleeper picks that could make a surprising run.
Turkey, perhaps the most fancied of all the underdog nations, kicked things off by getting hammered in the tournament opener, offering nary a threat against Italy. Switzerland, always viewed as a solid side that could be a factor, blew a lead and dropped potentially valuable points against Wales. And Ukraine, with the in-form Ruslan Malinovskyi at the center of operations, was overwhelmed by the Netherlands for long stretches of Sunday’s aforementioned contest.
Austria, one of the other teams in the same bracket, did its part, but Sunday’s 3-1 victory came against a North Macedonia side that is expected to exit in the group stage. The whole point of being a “dark horse” is to upset one of the proverbial heavyweights, after all.
Attention will now turn to the likes of Poland and Sweden in the coming days to see if anyone can stop the group stage from being a procession for the favorites.